Email Marketing 101

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Effective email marketing will unlock the value from your prospects and customers and build a solid foundation upon which to build a successful marketing campaign.

For example: Let’s say that a vet wants to remind pet owners that their pet is due another round of shots, or the clinic has a special on a certain product or service.

The most effective way to get the response you want from these people is to:

  1. Send a personalised email to the pet owners asking them to book a time and,
  2. A targeted email to the relevant segments of your list that there is a special on their type of pets food.

As we work through these modules, you’ll end up with a clearer understanding of what it takes to build solid repeatable results from emails that will get into your reader’s inbox and boost your sales.

Start the course now and discover the secrets to what Spike calls, Email with Purpose.

What is effective email marketing?

Effective email marketing is sending your message directly to the relevant consumer.

Think about it: an email is in your hand on your phone, it can be with you anywhere, it’s personalised, it’s tailored to your tastes and preferences and will only show you what you like.

What other medium can do that? Every other method of marketing sends out a huge message in the hopes people respond, it might work, it might not but an email can get right in front of someone wherever they are. There is simply no more direct method of communicating and getting through to your customers.

However, while anyone can send an email sending an effective email requires thought, planning and preparation.

A good way to see what is effective is taking note of the emails you read and open. Ask yourself why you’re on those lists? What’s in it for you to stay on those lists? Why haven’t you unsubscribed?

Remember, you are not your customer. What you think about email frequency, content and offers may have no bearing whatsoever on what your customers want from you.

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Getting Started

Before starting any new client or campaign

It’s important to think about the following – this will ensure you match your email marketing to your business objectives and send email with purpose.

What sort of people are on your database? You need to speak their language and create offers that are relevant to them.

Targeted vs Non-targeted
Is this email going to the whole database or a specific segment where you can custom target the message to them?

What is the one thing you want people to take away from your email?

Your purpose or what you want to achieve. Is it brand awareness, sales, feedback or to impart information? If you try and combine everything it’s possible to give people too many choices so they choose nothing.

Do you have a look and feel or design in mind? Are there brand guidelines to follow such as colour palette or copy direction? Should the emails match the website?

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How to build a customer list

Remember: “Collect, curate, continue”.

A “customer list” at it’s most basic is a spreadsheet of people and their contact information. If you’re meticulous and savvy about your data collection, plus use tools like Mailchimp Tags and Groups, you can divide this list up into smaller lists based on,

  • buying habits
  • location
  • age
  • gender
  • hobbies.

Anything you can think of which will allow better targeting and a stronger message reaching your audience. Dividing a database in this way is called “segmentation”.

A good list will contain at least:

  1. Email address
  2. First and last name
  3. Where they signed up

Keep this database on your machine, and also on a secure server or password secured Excel spreadsheet.

Give people a reason to sign up to your emails. Start with a strong signup message. We recently updated ours and are measuring the response to see if we get an uplift in signups.

Our old message
Kickstart your thinking! Our weekly email, delivered fresh each Sunday evening, brings you useful email marketing tips, what’s hot in data, blogs we liked and cool things from around the web.

New message
Get the news! Sign up for our email, delivered fresh every Sunday evening. Bringing you useful email marketing tips and cool things from around the web.

Collate your business contacts into an Excel spreadsheet. Make fields for first name, last name, email address, phone number, and an interest to identify them (dog owners, dairy farmers, Mercedes drivers etc.). These fields will allow you to speak to people in specific segments of your database and also allow you to personalise your emails to their interests.

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Designing an email

Designing an email is very much a dark art because of the coding limitations placed on you.  We’re still building emails with tables. Tables?!! Yep, that’s what we have to deal with daily.

For example, you can have a super pretty email made entirely out of images. Looks great in Photoshop! But it won’t look great when it’s in the inbox with images not downloaded and it might be super slow to download. Not great for mobile. There’s a lot more to coding a great email that drag and drop editors can’t replace.

Some points to keep in mind:

  1. Think about: the tone of your copy – does it match your business?
  2. Think about: the look and feel- does it match your brand?

When creating the layout for your email it’s important to consider the following:

Design for email
A printed flyer may not necessarily translate to email format.

How easy is it for people to get through your email? Especially with longer emails, it’s important to be able to scan quickly for content that is of particular interestl, so break the email down into sections with clear headings/titles.

Length of email
Would your email be more effective broken up into smaller emails and sent over a few weeks? If it’s too long, then content at the bottom could be missed.

100kb limit
In Gmail an email stops loading when it gets to 100kb, so you’ll see the message “This message is only partially downloaded. Download remaining”. Not ideal.

A shorter email will have less HTML code, so less chance it’ll get flagged. For longer emails there is a chance the customer won’t click to download the remaining code so never sees the bottom part of your email.

Maximum width 600 – 700px
Ensures your email looks its best across different screen sizes and email clients.

Pro tip: To make the email less likely to be treated as spam, also create a plain text version.

At the top of the email

The subject line and preheader are the first things your audience will read and play a massive role in getting people to open your emails.

Subject Line
This needs to be enticing and clear. Subject line length is less important as modern devices display the whole line.

This is a valuable piece of content which is often overlooked. Use this content to build on the subject line. In Gmail, Outlook and iPhone this text displays under the subject line as teaser text (usually maxes out around 100 characters).

Personalised “From” Address
People are more likely to open an email from an actual person, it’s kelly@ vs info@.

Link to View/Read Online
This is not necessary if an email is fully tested across all popular email clients (see section 8).

Link to Subscribe
A handy addition. This way, if your email is forwarded, the recipient has an easy way of joining your list.

Pro tip: Do not have “Trouble viewing this email…”, “Read online” or “Unsubscribe” displaying in the teaser text if possible.

Write down 3 different subject lines for your email based on the content within. Is it a special offer for your valued clients? Is it Important information regarding legislative changes? Pick a theme and write 3 variations of the subject line.

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Content is King!

Learning how to write good copy or having someone help you will make a big difference to your results.

For the main body of your email, there are some guidelines to follow that will make it more effective.

Clear calls to action
Think about what you want the customer to do. If they need to take action, make it obvious, i.e. Click here! Or Book now! Sometimes capitals in live text should be avoided, ie. ‘FREE’, due to spam concerns.

Use short sentences and paragraphs
You want your customer to keep reading, not fall asleep or skim the copy you spent hours writing.

White space
Use white space to make it easy to read and draw your eye to different content. You might also use spacing and horizontal lines to separate content areas.

Add hyperlinks
Have your articles / products / images link back to your website for more information wherever possible.

Text formatting
Use text formatting, such as bold text, bullet points and sub-headings for effect.

Use web-safe fonts only
Alternatively, you can use images to display text in a different font, but only use these where necessary as they add size to your email. You can use Google fonts, and less preferably, other custom fonts, but they will only display in roughly less than half of email clients. A fallback web-safe font must always be included.

Use social sharing and Forward To A Friend links to increase open rates and grow your database.

Pro tip: Suggested minimum font sizes: Body text = 14px, Header text = 22px. Remember, in today’s mobile-first world your email will be read on a small screen.

Images speak louder than words, so use them to emphasise your message.

There are some important points to note.

Alternative Text
Always use alternative (alt) text for images. By combining these with styles and background colours you can create an attractive “images off” email where your message is still visible. This is also very important for people with visual or other impairments, as there is software available to read the live text and alt tag contents of emails out loud.

Alt text is words or phrases used in HTML to tell the website viewers the content of an image. The alt text appears in a blank box which would normally contain the image and can be incredibly useful when an image link is not available or when an image is not supported in the recipient’s email client.

Background Images
These aren’t supported in all email clients so ensure the email is still “attractive” without them.

Image Size
Always resize and optimise your images with Photoshop or similar. Do not exceed the maximum width of the email and resize images to 72 dpi (dots per inch). The smaller in file size your images are, the quicker your email will load.

Protip: Photoshop has a “save for web” function which removes all the unnecessary data from image files.

Animated GIFs

They are okay in moderation and can add great visual impact to an otherwise static email.

Maintain a good Image to Text Ratio. Too much text is off-putting. Too many images might get the email flagged as spam and not seen. Strike a healthy balance between images and words.

Images Only Emails
Although sometimes necessary, we suggest keeping the preheader and footer as text elements, otherwise, the email could be seen as spam.

Jot down 100 – 150 words to use as a body text. Divide this into sections such as introduction, main offer/information, and email sign-off…


Source 3 images which would be suitable for an email (small size, high quality, obvious subject matter).

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Footer – the end of the email

Starting off on the right foot

The footer of an email newsletter usually includes contact details, social links and other general information about the company such as location. There are good ones that take advantage of people’s skimming habit and then there are the ones that don’t.

Here are some points to get your footer up to speed.

Why me?
It’s good practice to include “You are receiving this email because you signed up on our website” or similar to remind people of why they’re receiving the email. This will cut down spam complaints lodged against the sender’s email address.

What are spam complaints?
This is when someone clicks the “Mark as Spam” or “Report as Junk” button in the header of an email. Some people also use this as a lazy way to unsubscribe so include an…

Unsubscribe Link.
It is really important to include this – even the most loyal customer may want to break-up the relationship sometime. The unsubscribe link has to be clear and must be a one-click unsubscribe rather than the “send an email to this address with unsubscribe in the subject line…” method. When contacting an old or inactive list we also recommend adding an extra unsubscribe link in the header or early in the body copy.

Pro tip: Contact Details. It’s good practice to include your company name, address and contact details – it just adds to your credibility.

Write your email footer. Include a reason why people are receiving your email, your contact details and a clear and obvious method of not receiving further communications.

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Mobile – where everybody is now

Think mobile-first.

53% of our email readers opened their email on a portable device in 2016.

[UPDATE: In 2020 we are well over 60% for most businesses and much higher for some. That’s not to say that’s where people are buying from, but that is where they view emails first.]

Creating a mobile-friendly version is crucial as the number of people opening email on mobile increases. It’s fast becoming the new norm.

Optimised for Mobile
If you aren’t using responsive code, then ensure your email is still readable on a small screen.

Calls to Action
Must be tappable on a touchscreen with image sizes a minimum of 44 x 44 pixels.

Increase font sizes, line heights and use of white space to make it finger navigation friendly.

One Column Format works best for mobile.

Pro tip: adding a Litmus (read more about Litmus in the next section) tracking code will help you to identify your database’s specific viewing habits.

Look at the email on your mobile, and compare it to the same email on your computer. Write down the main differences. Design for mobile-first.

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Test, testing, 1, 2, 3.

Test! Test! Test! Then test again.

Once the email has been built it is important to test it, ensuring the customer will see it the way it was intended to be seen.

Test your HTML code across all major email clients to ensure your email displays correctly for all your customers. If an email is broken, you could lose that customer.

Litmus and Email on Acid are great, simple, easy to use programs for ensuring email readability across all clients and platforms.

Proof-read your content and if you can get it peer-reviewed before sending to catch anything you have missed. From experience, we’ve found that the person who builds the email is not the best person to test it. They miss things because they’ve been so close to it as they built it.

Typoes an Bad Grama doesnt look good.
Using a tool like Grammarly or even the spell and grammar check in Word will catch most mistakes.

Why take this time and care?
Because your customer database is invaluable so spending a few extra minutes to Triple Check Everything is worth it. The results will be better as well because people notice care, whether subconsciously or not, they notice.

Read through your email three times. Printing the copy sometimes helps this process. Ensure there are no mistakes in grammar or spelling and that the information is presented clearly, concisely, while still being on-brand. Correct any mistakes. Resend a test to make sure and you’re ready to hit go!

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Growing your customer database

It’s where the value of your business is!

A lot goes on behind the scenes besides simply building an email. Maintaining your database is incredibly important. Having communicated consistently with your customers will add an extra multiplier or five when you come to sell your business.

The old marketing adage that it’s easier to keep and sell to an existing customer is true. However, it’s so often the case that businesses just don’t appear to believe it and in the rush to get new customers neglect their existing ones.

Regularly sending emails to your customer list helps keep the database fresh and customers engaged with your content.

We suggest sending emails at least monthly [UPDATE 2020: weekly might work better for you] and sticking to a schedule. This consistency will help create user habits so they’ll come to expect your email at the time you said you would send it.

Keep in mind they might not always read your email. But being there in the inbox still registers with people and when they need you, there you will be!

For infrequent sends to less active lists there is a risk of people marking you as spam, simply because they forgot they even signed up. That happens more often than you might think and in some cases we’ve had to start from scratch to keep within the Anti-Spam Act.

Growing Your Database

Collecting emails has to become part of the culture of your business and at every touchpoint, you should be saying, “We send an awesome newsletter, have you got an email address we can send it too?”

You could collect contacts in-store with a simple form or note pad that people can write on and give you permission to email them. Collecting email addresses online through the sign up forms or popups makes things easier for you as they are added to your list automatically. You can welcome them and give them an incentive to purchase from you.

Run competitions where entry is via email if you have an event take a signup form. Signup forms work best if you have something to offer as an incentive for signing up, this way it’s a trade between you and customer.

Here’s a link to a great example where we helped grow and email list by 3,000% over a weekend.

Pro tip: If people aren’t opening your emails, target these people with a re-engagement campaign to get them back onboard.

Think of a plan to increase database size. This could be running a competition that requires an email address to enter, a link to share an offer or social ads with a clear single-minded purpose.

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Sending your email to your list

When should I send my email?

The most common question asked of any email marketer will be regarding the best time and day to send an email. Our best answer is always, it depends.

It depends on when you said you would send them, what you’re sending and who you’re sending them too. The answer lies in your business and in your data. But, let’s dive into some basics you can start with.

When should you send your emails and should you be resending them? Let’s start with…

What time should I send my email?
Normally we schedule emails anywhere between 10am and 3pm but there are no strict rules around this. Sometimes an email will be scheduled as soon as it’s tested because it’s based on a time-sensitive offer.

It is really dependent on your customer database. Review the information on when emails are opened to gauge a time that works for you. Keep in mind mail server peak times. For example, a lot of business email is sent between 8am and 9am as people start replying to the emails they’ve received. There is another peak in the afternoon.

It’s a good idea to try sends at different times, or sending the same email at different times to different segments of your customer database in order to get some concrete data on the best send times. Mailchimp has an interesting tool that optimises the send times based on a LOT of data. We’re using it and reviewing the difference in results. Time and reporting will tell if it’s working.

Resending emails to those contacts who haven’t opened your latest email is a great way to encourage more readers – we suggest changing the subject line and preheader text.

Be aware of your audience. International emails need to be relevant and sent at appropriate times. Most email platforms allow you to do this automatically.

Pro tip: Resends for the win! After sending an email, wait 2-3 days and then resend to the people who didn’t open the first time around. This will give you the best results from your offer and is one of the secrets to our client’s success!

Fun fact: Queen Elizabeth of Britain sent her first email in 1976!

When do you mostly check and open your emails? Make a note of this and consider sending your emails around this time.

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Lifecycle emails – simple automations

Automating your customer lifecycle communications

Lifecycle emails are automated messages sent to a contact after a certain period of time, such as at 1 month, 2 months, 6 months etc. These emails are usually used to remind the recipient to make an action (activate a card, pop in for an oil change) and either has them repeat a purchase or convert them back into active customers.

As lifecycle emails are usually entirely automated (once built) they’re a great way to keep in touch and reconnect with those customers who may have slipped through the cracks. If there is no contact from the recipient after 12 months they are typically removed from the database.

This might sound like a lot of work and time to send some emails but once your lifecycle (funnel to some) automation is up and running it’s a matter of maintenance.

If you can think of your customer database like a garden – an image of a garden just popped into your mind, right? – the ground needs to be cleared, then you add your plants, plant your seeds and once the hard work is done all that’s required is a little pruning here, some watering there, and a bit of attention to allow it to flourish.

With an email database it pays to be vigilant over the contents of that customer database, pay attention to it, and if it needs watering (metaphorically) then get on to it quickly. Doing so will pay dividends and get you better results.

As a final exercise, plan out a timeline of emails about a particular topic. This could be informing readers of an event 6 months out and then sending monthly reminders with more information. It could be information on the cricket season, but it should be strategic with a goal throughout the timeline (such as onboarding people into a tuition program or encouraging them to make a booking or purchase).

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